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3 African Countries Granted Permission to Sell Ivory

Kenyan wildlife officials have strongly condemned a U.N. decision to allow a one-time sale of ivory tusks by three southern African countries. Kenya warns this will lead to an upsurge in elephant poaching.

A senior official with the Kenya Wildlife Service, Abdul Rahman Bashir, says the decision by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species will encourage poaching across the globe.

Meeting in Chile, the 160-nation Convention, known as CITES decided to allow South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia to sell off several dozen tons of ivory. The Convention accepted their argument that they have effective programs in place to protect their elephants. Similar requests from Zambia and Zimbabwe were turned down.

But Mr. Bashir says the impact of the decision will be felt far beyond the three countries involved.

"It is a very sad day not only for Kenya, but for most of the African range states which actually have a very weak enforcement capacity," he said. "There is nothing in place to ensure that the illegal trade will not take place. We have seen this before when Zimbabwe was given a one-off like what has happened now. We should be prepared now to spend more money and to lose more lives in terms of poachers as well as rangers doing this job."

Mr. Bashir is referring to a similar one-time ivory sale that CITES allowed in 1999, which conservationists say led to an increase in illegal elephant killings.

The ivory stockpiles come mainly from natural elephant deaths. The southern African states say they will use the money earned to boost their conservation efforts.

But, Mr. Bashir, of Kenya's Wildlife Service, charges the few million dollars that will be earned is trivial compared to the terrible impact the sale will have on the world's elephant population.

"As far as the stockpiles are concerned, yes there is a problem," Mr. Bashir said. "Even Kenya itself has 27 tons. But we cannot just take this ivory and say we are going to put this ivory in the market and then now we are going to see an onslaught of this particular animal."

International trade in ivory was banned in 1989. In the 10 years before that, hunting cut Africa's elephant population in half.